What is Branding?


Jan 19

Just like with any industry jargon, you can throw a word around and assume everyone knows what you’re talking about.

Earlier this week, I was on a phone call and the person on the other end sheepishly asks, “So, I know everyone talks about branding… but I’m not sure if I fully understand what it is.” This caught me off guard and I realized that, just like with any industry jargon, you can throw a word around and assume everyone knows what you’re talking about.

My first response was to ask my Instagram community – “What does branding mean to you?” I wanted to understand the most common assumptions that people had around the term.

Here are some of the answers I got:

“It means intentionally making the effort to stand out and not get lost in the crowd.”

— @taygobren

“Your brand is an identity. It’s more than just graphics and a logo – that’s just the face (and the beginning) of how you represent your business. Your values and so much more can be reflected in your brand.”

— @missa_mae

“It’s an emotional reaction in the heart of a consumer… everything you do and are shapes that reaction.”

— @newyorksherpa

And they’re all right. But during the branding process, there are so many different terms that it can become difficult to understand what’s actually going on.

Today I’m going to walk through a few of the words that we use in the studio to describe our branding process and explain what they mean to us.


Why do we brand?

We brand because otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to make a selection between similar options. We associate certain emotions, thoughts, and experiences around visual cues that feel most aligned with how we view ourselves.

So, branding is the process that an entrepreneur goes through to select all the little symbolic pieces that together form an idea of who they are. When properly selected, branding gives a business greater value and influence, and assembles a loyal following.

Branding is the ability for a business to connect on a deep and subconscious level with a like-minded audience. It’s the ability to look your customer in the eye and say “I think the same as you. I see the world the way you do. I created this with you in mind. I know you will love it.”

Because of the ability for brands to connect with a customer’s subconscious through visual cues, brands can be very powerful. Which is why I believe it’s vital (especially as a personal brand or small business) to develop self-awareness in order to portray an honest message.

What is brand messaging?

Brand Messaging is also called Brand Positioning, depending on who you ask. Basically, it’s what makes a brand stand out from the crowd – their fundamental values and perspective. Knowing your brand’s message is understanding what makes you unique.

A brand message is a foundation that dictates how all decisions are made. It’s the cornerstone of how a brand develops, and it’s important to revisit the message often to make sure it remains the heart of the company.

A major part of brand messaging is understanding your value – what products or services make your company useful – and also your values – what you believe in. Your brand values are the standards that you use to run your company and select the right clients to do business with.

Your brand message is usually an internal document or statement that you would share with your team, but it influences everything you produce. It’s like a steady stream that runs through your entire business, influencing your writing, photography, and identity.

Use this FREE guide to develop your message.

What is a brand identity?

A brand’s identity is its outward-facing image. It includes your business name, your visual style, and the tone of your copy. It stems from your brand’s intangible message and produces tangible outcomes that your audience can interact with (like your logo, bio, social media accounts, etc.)

Your brand identity is the summary of everything the public sees to help them form an opinion about who you are. It also creates a personality for your business.

What is a brand personality?

Your brand personality is the human traits that your business begins to take on. These traits are based on your behavior and the people who make up your team. Words like warmth, joy, eccentricity, and seriousness are used to describe a brand’s personality.

As an independent entrepreneur or leader of a small team, your brand will often begin to take on your personality as the founder. If you create a business trying to portray a personality that is very different from your own, it will feel disconnected and insincere. This is why it’s important to have a good understanding of your own personality and become comfortable being yourself.

Often, designers will use collages to represent a brand’s personality. By finding visual representations of how you express your values and personality will directly influence the design of your brand. This practice is called a moodboard.

What is the purpose of a moodboard?

A mood board is a collage of found images to represent the style and personality of a brand. Most designers use this as an initial exercise to make sure they are on the same page with the client and understand the best way to represent who they are. Down the road, a mood board can be a great reminder of the visual standards of the brand and influence the ongoing design direction.

However, a moodboard is an internal creative direction document and is not necessarily intended to show to the public. It’s also not an opportunity to copy someone else’s designs or look. It’s merely a representation of the direction you want to go in.

Even though this exercise can feel fluffy at first, it has a profound impact on the creation of your logo.

What is the purpose of a logo?

Logos are the most basic visual representation of a brand. Because of their essential nature, they’ve often been confused with the brand itself. But a logo is just another tool for building a recognizable brand. Logos are visual landmarks.

Good logos incorporate visual cues that subtly communicate the brand message. Iconic logos have symbols that reiterate the overarching personality of the business. When someone’s logo compliments their personality which influences their entire style, we say that their brand feels “cohesive.”

But as complex and creative humans, it can be hard to land on a consistent visual look. This is why brand style guides can be a helpful tool as you practice applying your style to your whole business.

How do you use a brand style guide?

A brand style guide is a helpful resource for maintaining consistency in your brand’s visuals. By having one document to show all of the graphic design elements, colors, fonts, and application, you’re able to make sure that you consistently create the same experience on every piece of collateral and advertising you produce.

It also makes it a whole lot easier, as your business and team grows, to implement the same visual standards across your entire strategy.

What is a brand strategy?

Brand strategy is the long-term plan for developing your brand over time to achieve big-picture goals. A brand strategy takes careful inventory of a business’ resources and their audience to make sure that there is alignment between the efforts of the business and the reaction of its audience.

Having a brand strategy means intentionally avoiding a scattered business model, confusing products, and inconsistent services that can damage your customer’s trust in your brand. Without a brand strategy, it’s tempting to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. But this completely defeats the purpose of branding in order to stand out!

Think of a brand strategy as the accountability in your business to stay in your lane and follow your own unique path forward. When you are fully aligned with your strategy, your brand experience naturally blossoms into a positive encounter.

What is a brand experience?

A brand experience are the feelings and responses that your customers and followers have with your brand. It’s the emotions that your brand triggers. You can create an intentional brand experience by paying attention to each interaction you have with your audience and customer to make sure that you are communicating effectively and practicing the values of your company.

However, your brand will have an experience whether you pay attention to it or not. If it’s not a priority, your experience will be confusing, frustrating, or even damaging to your customers.

When is the right time to go through the branding process?

Timing is key when branding your business. If you begin too soon, you won’t have a good frame of reference for what you are trying to accomplish. If you start too late, your audience may have formed such a solid perception of your brand that you’ll have to work overtime to correct their assumptions.

Here’s the truth about branding – you don’t need a perfect brand identity to begin practicing your brand values. From the very beginning of your businesses’ inception, it’s crucial that you identify your values and begin to practice them in your business.

You can always go back to refine your brand’s visual look, but it’s much more difficult to change a brand’s experience when they want to be known for something different than their audience’s current perception.

My best advice is to start before you’re ready. Get really clear on your intentions and values first. Then, test the waters. See if your product or service makes sense to the people you assumed would buy it. See if it fully meets the need or if there’s something missing. Record what your customers say about those first few interactions.

Branding is an evolving process and is meant to develop over time.

What is a rebrand and when will I need one?

It may be time for a rebrand if you feel out of alignment with the purpose of why you started your business. If you’ve gone through significant changes in your team, clientele, offerings, and personal style, it may be time to reevaluate and set new standards for how you run your business. It’s also possible to outgrow your identity over time as you business expands.

Rebranding is when your current brand is no longer working for your target market or effectively showcasing your personality. Because rebrands can be tricky, it’s extremely important to consider working with a brand designer, strategist, or coach to evaluate where your business is currently and your options for moving forward successfully.

In a digital space that seems to change so quickly, it can be easy to forget the purpose of a lot of the buzzwords you hear in the small business world. Before jumping on the bandwagon, take some time to identify which components are missing from your brand and business that are keeping you from moving forward.

Use this FREE guide to get started

If you were reading this and thinking that it’s time to invest in an aspect of your brand so that you can reach your full potential, check out our branding services here.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on these definitions below and if there were any that surprised you (or that I may have missed!)

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